The Lil'wat First Nation has a new government with the election of a chief and council last Saturday.
Lucinda Phillips, currently director of land and resources for the band whose reserves lie about four kilometers east of the Village of Pemberton, was elected chief with 132 votes, beating out closest competitor Joanne John, who got 120 votes, and Vaughan Gabriel, who got 105 votes. 600 people voted for chief in total.
"I hope to make people believe, support and trust me over time because I believe in this community, the people and the land," Phillips said. "With my extensive experience in working in all capacities throughout the band, I feel that I can work with the new council and we can make some positive changes."
The council election also saw Josh Anderson, Vaughan Gabriel, Chris Irving, Luke Johnny, Lois Joseph, Maxine Joseph, Dean Nelson, Nadine Pascal, Gregory Peters, Tara Smith, Rosemary Stager and Carl Wallace voted in to represent the community.
Anderson, a front-line coordinator at the Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre, said it was a great honour to be elected to his first term on council.
"It's a great honour and achievement," he said. "When I was really little, when I first moved around here, I always said I wanted to be chief, so council is just one step heading into the right direction."
But only days into her leadership the newly elected Phillips is already facing challenges. On Saturday she faced questions over conduct last August that led to an assault charge under section 266 of the Criminal Code.
Pique has not been able to confirm the precise details of the incident, but has determined from speaking to the mother of the alleged victim, as well as records available on Court Services Online, that Phillips was charged with assault for an altercation that occurred on August 8 in Mount Currie.
In an interview Phillips said she didn't contest the charge. She was given one year of probation and fined $50, money that was payable to the victim.
"Things went to court, things happened and the truth never ever did come out at all," she told Pique in a Tuesday interview. "But rather than fighting it, I know I reacted wrong and I didn't even try to contest it because I reacted wrong."
Linda Lepine, a council candidate who finished out of the running with 130 votes, was first apprised of the incident after being approached by the victim's mother last week. She was provided with documentation relating to the incident and became immediately concerned.
Lepine raised her concerns about the incident with the community over the weekend but learned that having a criminal record does not prevent you from running for chief or council or being elected under the federal Indian Act. However, if a person was convicted after being elected they couldn't serve as chief.
Lepine is now looking into mounting a petition to the Minister of Indian Affairs and to the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs to have Phillips removed from office. She also wonders whether the Mount Currie Band should institute a policy regarding members who've been convicted of criminal offences.
"Throughout this process, after being approached by a mother, I'm concerned," she said. "This only happened five months ago and I think it's a pretty big loophole to be able to gain the people's trust. I don't think that it's very proper for somebody to be elected with 132 votes, with a criminal conviction of assault."
During criminal record background checks by Pique , commonly done around elections, information showed that Chris Irving, elected to a second non-consecutive term on council with 202 votes, faced charges of assault and fear of injury/damage to property from June of 1999. He was sentenced to two terms of probation, the first lasting a year and the second lasting 500 days.
Irving said in an interview that the charges against him were not an issue when he served on council two terms ago and that the community generally knows about his past.
"Within the community, most people know me quite well," he said. "It's something that happened back in 1999 and I was probably just out of school back then, back in my early 20's. I'd led a path that wasn't, I guess, conducive to what I do now.
Asked why she didn't also address Irving's charges, Lepine said she wasn't aware of them.
For her part, Phillips isn't denying that she's made mistakes in the past, but she's also taking very seriously the mandate that Lil'wat voters gave her in the most recent election.
"As I said in my campaign and my speech, I have made a lot of mistakes like everybody else," said Phillips.
"I know I've learned from my mistakes, I know I'm going to grow from my mistakes. I hope that my community understands and realizes that we're all human, and it's going to take time for the community to trust me and work with me."